Innovation That Matters

When built, Ma'aden's solar process heat plant will be the largest in the world | Photo source GlassPoint

Solar steam production cuts aluminium emissions

Agriculture & Energy

A refinery in Saudi Arabia aims to replace fossil fuels with solar energy to power aluminium production

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Spotted: Saudi Arabian mining company Ma’aden is planning to use solar ‘greenhouses’ to generate the steam needed for aluminium production – in place of fossil fuels.

In a partnership with industrial steam experts GlassPoint, the organisation is constructing the world’s largest solar process heat plant on a plot the size of London’s Gatwick Airport. The goal is to reduce annual carbon emissions at the company’s refinery at Ras Al-Khair by 600,000 tonnes per year – an amount that equates to around half the facility’s carbon footprint. Until now, the refinery has generated steam using gas.

Glasspoint’s system uses semi-circular mirrors to amplify the sun’s rays, directing the heat onto a plant’s steam pipes. The water is heated to the required temperature, and with GlassPoint’s molten salt energy storage tanks, steam is produced day and night. The system can set a range of temperatures for steam, making it usable in a number of industries. And GlassPoint specifically designed the solar steam process for easy integration with current industrial systems, greatly reducing installation and transition costs.

Placing the mirrors within a greenhouse means that the components can be lighter and cheaper than if they were stationed outside. This is because they are protected from the elements. Despite these cost savings, the solar system remains more expensive than using fossil fuels. But the partnership between Ma’aden and GlassPoint shows a way forward as refineries come under increasing pressure from stakeholders to clean up their act.

Ma’aden has tentative plans for the new facility to begin construction in 2024.

As well as other projects seeking to replace industrial fossil-fuel-powered heating with renewable energy, Springwise has also spotted solar power bringing day-to-day improvements to communities via a solar refrigerator.  

Written by: Keely Khoury



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